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Anglo-American Relations

Volume 482: debated on Tuesday 11 November 2008

What the priorities of the Government will be in their dealings with the next President of the US and his Administration. (234530)

The Prime Minister spoke to President-elect Obama last Thursday and offered him his warmest congratulations on his historic campaign and victory. We look forward to working with the new Administration further to develop the uniquely comprehensive relationship between our two countries. At the top of our agenda will be the international economic crisis, the middle east peace process, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and climate change.

Following the hugely encouraging victory of Senator Obama—and, above all, in view of Armistice day, when we remember the sacrifice of so many people from this country and our allies—what will the Government do to ensure that the new Administration promote not only good relationships between this country and the USA, but better relationships between the Presidents and people of the USA and Russia, our two great wartime allies?

I think that US-Russia relations are, in the first instance, a matter for the US and for Russia, but we can contribute by engaging Russia in debates about the future of the international system, of which it forms an important part. Secondly, we can ensure that nuclear non-proliferation remains at the heart of a shared agenda with Russia. Thirdly, we need to continue to give help—through the G8, for example—to the disarmament that Russia continues to take forward. There are obviously responsibilities on Russia as well: the President of Russia says that he does not want a new cold war, although the speech he gave last week was an odd way of showing it. It is important that Russia fulfils its responsibilities to the international system.

Are we not becoming enmeshed in American missile defence—without the debate promised by former Prime Minister Blair? Given President-elect Obama’s express doubts about missile defence and given that it is grossly expensive, hugely ineffective and extremely destabilising for Europe, should it not be a priority of our Government, working with the new American Administration, to look for a more constructive collective approach to security concerns?

In tandem with the new Administration, we will certainly look into a whole range of nuclear proliferation issues, including ballistic missile defence. I would say to my hon. Friend, however, that the countries in central and eastern Europe that are siting those missiles are taking sovereign decisions about their own security and defence. Furthermore, the current Administration in Washington offered to run the ballistic missile defence system jointly with the Russians, so it is a pity that the Russians did not take up that offer.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that an urgent priority for the Obama presidency—and, indeed, for that matter, for the British Government—is to ensure that we do not extend NATO membership to countries unless we are prepared ultimately to go to war in their defence? As there is not the slightest possibility of either the United States or the countries of western Europe going to war over countries such as Georgia or those like it whose territorial integrity might be threatened, will the right hon. Gentleman discuss with the American Administration other ways of enhancing the security of Georgia—by accelerating its membership of the EU, for example, as well as through other initiatives?

Yes, we will discuss a whole range of ways in which Russia’s neighbouring countries can give greater security and support—political and economic, including through the EU, as well as on the security front. We should certainly not welcome people into NATO unless they are willing to live up to all the obligations. I would say, however, that when the three Baltic countries joined NATO 10 years ago, many people asked whether they could ever be properly bound into a western security architecture, yet they have been—and they are far more secure for it. I absolutely assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Georgian and Ukrainian cases will be decided on the basis of their merits, their capacity and the determination of their population to join. These countries must want to join; it is not just a matter of whether we allow them to.

President-elect Obama made absolutely clear his condemnation of the assassination of trade unionists in Columbia in Latin America. Does not that condemnation provide the opportunity to reposition ourselves in Columbia? If any assistance we gave went not to the military but to the social partners, the trade unionists, in Columbia, would we not at last be on the right side of the argument in that country?

I can say that, publicly and privately, we have been condemning the killing of trade unionists in Colombia for a long time, and will continue to do so. I can also say that the only military aid that we give to Colombia is for de-mining and human rights training; there is no question of the money leaking into other activities. We will certainly continue to press for reform in Colombia, because it is greatly needed.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the election of President-elect Obama offers a golden opportunity for a fresh start in the middle east? Will he and the Government, and Tony Blair in his role with the Quartet, seek to persuade the President-elect not to lose sight of the actions that are needed so urgently in the middle east as he concentrates on sorting out the domestic problems in the United States?

Yes. We have already addressed that issue once today, and I addressed it on election day, but we need the engagement of the American Administration from day one. If there is any lesson to be learnt from the Annapolis process, it is that it is not possible to wait until year seven to become fully engaged with the middle east.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is an appropriate time to encourage the American Administration to become more positively involved in international development issues, including conflict prevention and the implementation of the millennium development goals?

I do think it is important that America becomes fully engaged with development issues, and the size of its economy gives it a unique capacity to do so. Let me say to my right hon. Friend—I hope that he will still talk to me when I have said this—that of all the things the Bush Administration did, one of the most significant was their work on health issues. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] It would be nice to see a few of my hon. Friends expressing agreement as well. I am trying to persuade them.

May I draw to my right hon. Friend’s attention—in the nicest possible way, and without asking him to sign up to anything else—the significance of the $5 billion PETFAR health programme? Perhaps the best way of doing that is to point out that it provides an excellent basis on which the Obama Administration can build in strong and dramatic ways.

One of the foreign policy challenges that the United States Administration will face is the deteriorating situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that the European Union and the new Administration should work together to prevent Bosnia from sliding back into crisis? Can he assure the House that the Office of the High Representative will remain open, and that there will be no question of withdrawing EU troops from Bosnia until genuine stability is returned and reforms are under way?

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the message of support for the five objectives and two conditions was at the heart of my visit to Bosnia yesterday. In meetings with leaders of all six political parties, I made absolutely clear our determination to follow up the letter that I composed jointly with the Czech Foreign Minister in July about the importance of the EU focusing on the Bosnia issue and the importance of sticking to the conditions that we have outlined for the future of the Office of the High Representative. I also spent two hours on the plane with the High Representative himself, discussing how he could work with the EU to ensure that his mandate was properly fulfilled.